The end of a New England winter is often accompanied by uneasiness. Pandemic stressors, environmental crises and heartbreaking images of war across our world make this year even more difficult. Now seems like a good time to introduce a beautifully mysterious plant associated with revival.
Dan Frank, 51, an Ashfield resident, recently heard of the Rose of Jericho when meeting up with members of his band, Forest Avenue, to play tunes from Celtic music and other genres.
Former owner of Maude’s Music Instrument Shop, as well as founder of Maude’s Closet Concerts, Frank plays mandolin, hurdy-gurdy and bouzouki with Forest Avenue. He also teaches private lessons “on most plucked strings”, including those mentioned above, as well as electric bass and several types of guitars and ukuleles. It also operates a recording studio.
The multi-instrumentalist also boasts some impressive non-musical skills: he’s worked as a llama trainer, stagehand, high school teacher, auto mechanic, and farmer. Even a brief conversation with the young grandfather of four makes it seem like this guy has seen it all and done it all.
Yet when Frank’s teammate Desiree Lowit displayed her Rose of Jericho plant during a rehearsal, no one else had ever heard of it. The fact that it bears little resemblance to a classic rose only increased their curiosity.
“It was the weirdest thing,” Frank said, “and since I’m drawn to the unusual, I was intrigued.”
Frank observed what looked like a ball of moss sitting in a bowl, part wet and part dried, with the bottom half submerged in water. “Desiree feels an affinity with the plant and sees it as a source of healing,” Frank said. “In these difficult times, it caught my attention.”
Lowit explained, “My friend Bev and I discovered the Rose of Jericho through books on healing and self-care. As a therapist fascinated by different approaches to health, I wanted to know more.
Then Lowit received a Rose of Jericho plant for her birthday. “The plant has revived me in dark and wintery times. I love having it near me, especially when I feel overwhelmed by dark and dire situations,” Lowit said. “The plant never dies and can going through long periods of desiccation – that’s the kind of symbolism I need these days.”
Shortly after receiving hers as a gift, Lowit surprised each member of the group with her own Rose of Jericho plants.
“Mine looked like a bundle of withered leaves and twigs,” Frank said. “But after encountering Désirée’s plant, I knew I could have my own rehydrated Rose of Jericho by following simple instructions.”
Passionate about plant traditions, Frank enjoyed discovering the biblical connotations of the plant. “It has an Old World, resurrection quality,” he said, “and many religions around the world celebrate the plant.”
The rose of Jericho is a moss native to desert regions. The plant may dry out completely, curl up on itself and puff out like a weed until it finds water. “Then it unfurls to reveal beautiful green fern-like fronds,” Frank said.
Frank took his package home and “put it in a nice fluted green bowl with water.” He saw it transform in a few days. “It amazes me that a living plant can drift like a little grass,” he said. “It looks dead, but once it finds water, it comes back to life.” This explains why “resurrection plant” is one of its many nicknames.
“I love the beautiful Fibonacci structure of the rehydrated plant,” Frank said, referring to a number sequence in which each number is the sum of the previous two – a famous formula reflected in many natural world spirals, including sunflowers, fiddleheads, nautilus shells and other horticultural and marine formations.
Frank learned that there are actually two types of plants called Rose of Jericho. ”Anastatica heirochuntica is the true – and rarest – Rose of Jericho,” he said, adding, “The kind my bandmates and I have is Selaginella lepidophyllatechnically known as the false Rose of Jericho.
False or not, the variety adopted by the members of Frank’s gang belongs to the ear moss family. The true Rose of Jericho, however, is not moss at all, but rather a flowering plant in the mustard family, Brassicaceae.
This is where it gets really weird.
The plant officially known as the “true” – a tumbleweed native to West Asia and the Middle East – is not actually reborn. Rather, it is capable of repeated hygroscopic expansion and retraction, which superficially resembles rebirth.
Enthusiasts who wish to obtain a truly resurrecting Rose of Jericho should seek out the version officially known as the “false”. (Go figure.) Selaginella lepidophylla is native to the 200,000 square mile Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert in North America, which spans six Mexican states and parts of Texas and New Mexico. The plant is able to literally revive because it can regain its metabolic function after a period of extreme desiccation.
Some people believe that the water was used to revive a Selaginella lepidophylla can improve human life; they sprinkle water on doorways and thresholds in the hope of bringing prosperity. Some people add five coins to the water while the plant revives, then wipe that water off doors and windows to invite prosperity into a home or business.
In some cultures, the rose of Jericho has been used by midwives to ease childbirth and reduce bleeding. Some believe that a pregnant woman who drinks water from the plant can speed up labor; other devotees simply keep the plant near the birthing bed.
Whether you believe in one of the traditions or just want to experiment with this fascinating plant, keep in mind that it requires no soil; the roots just need access to water. Every few weeks, remove the plant from the water and allow it to dry out and curl up completely. Be careful not to let it crash when dried.
Once the Rose of Jericho has rested, revive the plant by placing it again in lukewarm water. It will open significantly within a few hours, but may take a few days to regain full health and foliage.
“The promise of a wonderful revival is certainly welcome at this time,” Frank said. “I have survived the pandemic and other challenges largely by playing music with my mates. It is medicine for my soul, and has been for decades. The healing power of music is a important part of what I share with my students, as well as chord structures, dexterity and tune patterns.
But a miraculous plant in its habitat? “It can’t hurt,” Frank said with a seductive smile. “More beauty? Sign me up!”
Dan Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eveline MacDougall, author of “Fiery Hope”, is a plant enthusiast, artist, musician and mom. She likes to hear from readers of email@example.com and PO Box 223, Greenfield, MA 01302